Spotlight on the voluntary sector pilot project

In September 2014, we launched a one-year pilot to encourage voluntary sector agencies to join INTRAN.

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Here’s how it went.
High-quality interpreting and translation are crucial to ensuring all clients can access advice even when English isn’t their first language. The goal of this pilot was to help third-sector organisations offer accessible services to migrant communities, BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities and disabled people, and to take a strategic partnership approach to the equality and community cohesion issues currently affecting Norfolk . We’re confident that the same findings would be relevant to agencies facing similar issues across the region.
The eleven organisations taking part were Age UK Norwich, Equal Lives, King’s Lynn Area Resettlement Support (KLARS), Leeway Domestic Violence and Abuse Services, Magdalene Group, Mancroft Advice Project (MAP), Mid-Norfolk Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), Norfolk Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS), Norwich & Central Mind and Norwich Consolidated Charities.
The pilot was funded by the Norfolk Community Relations and Equality Board (CREB) and managed and administered by the Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS), one of the pilot members.

How the project helped
Interpreters were mostly used for screening of client enquiries, advising clients/patients, contacting clients for follow-up or evaluation and translating outreach resources to reach more clients and understand why non-service users did not access services.
Leeway, the domestic abuse charity, offers a great example of how this pilot helped participant organisations and users. ‘We received a call from a distressed lady who did not speak much English,’ a support worker says. ‘I was able to call her back immediately using INTRAN, and from that call, we were able to get support for her to keep her safe.’ Here, timely intervention supported by INTRAN helped save a victim of abuse from further harm and distress.
Access to telephone interpretation enabled organisations like the Norfolk Community Law Service (NCLS) to respond immediately to the client, particularly when a face-to-face meeting isn’t needed. For example, an existing client might phone to query a letter they’ve received from a statutory agency such as the Home Office or DWP.

By joining the pilot, King’s Lynn Area Resettlement Support (KLARS) could proactively promote their services to communities they’d never been able to reach before. ‘We’ve learnt that we don’t need to turn clients away on the basis of language,’ they say. ‘We can easily access INTRAN services.’

The pilot’s half-year evaluation pointed to a direct link between agencies planning and actively promoting their access to professional interpreting and translation services and the usage of those services. Demand rose from zero bookings in the first month to a total of 108 over the first six months. Members expect to see still higher demand as a result of the Care Act (2014).

What we found out
The pilot has generated many useful findings, both for INTRAN and pilot members. Firstly, it was clear that there are times when critical for voluntary agencies to work with professional interpreters they can trust – particularly when communication barriers between service users and advisers can have serious consequences. Timely access to social welfare advice can help prevent costly crises such as homelessness, and improve health and wellbeing more broadly, reducing the demand on the public sector.
‘We think it’s important to use INTRAN services in all cases where our clients do not speak or understand English,’ says Des McKeating of NCLS. ‘Given that our clients are being advised on legal issues, there are potentially serious consequences if they can’t explain the details of their case or understand the advice being given.’
Even though the voluntary sector does work with bilingual volunteers and workers, pilot members found that there are areas where the accuracy provided by professional interpreters is critical. They also bring a guarantee of impartiality and vetting. Although usage was relatively low, it grew steadily over the life of the pilot – some members feeling that it still didn’t reflect what they actually needed.

Sustainability and affordability
If voluntary organisations are to make access to services sustainable, affordability is key. Some small organisations do find it difficult to meet the costs of high-quality interpreting and translation. This lack of funding is a major issue that should be addressed before the public sector divests any further services.
As a first step, we encourage pilot organisations to include costs for language services in funding bids and tenders. Our monitoring may help them predict future needs. And, of course, we’ll continue to work towards a sustainable solution for the voluntary sector so they can access the high-quality interpreting and translating they need to help their users.